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Nightfall

Nightfall

by Marco M. Pardi

The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.” Martin Luther King, Jr.


Anonymous.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

As a child my favorite time was nightfall. The adults were settling down with whatever entertained them, leaving me with the freedom to have thoughts without fear of betraying them, looking into the darkness and feeling my imagination flex, free from the mundane imagery which otherwise confined me. Not a scared of the dark kind of kid, I welcomed it. Still do.

But we are entering a new kind of darkness, a darkness of uncertainty which carries a far greater likelihood of monsters than any childhood imagination could conjure. I’m not referring only to the thick drapery of lies, “alternative facts”, and provocations furled around us daily by the dark cabal which has seized power in Washington, though the “shining city on a hill” has become a gore blackened maw gnashing about to consume any and all who dare speak their mind, who slip and betray their thoughts.

I’m also speaking of the coming internal nightfall beginning to obscure what we had long seen so clearly as the future. Now, some would say everything goes in cycles, day follows night, etc. And some, like George Carlin, would remind us that “Behind every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud”. Some would see that glimmer of light on the horizon as the promise of a new dawn. And others would see it as the coming conflagration.

But neither side seems to understand that in social issues there are no certainties, such as the turning of the Earth relative to the Sun. There are no divinely ordained plans or rules governing the crapshoot we call progress. Those history classes we struggled through actually provided guidance, while we dutifully concentrated on names and dates for the tests. Even more evidence of the fate of “the best laid plans…” can be found in Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse. In short, there is no cosmic rule which ensures the eternal success of the Great American Experiment. In fact, as history is our guide we can see that authoritarian dictatorships lasted far longer than “of the people, by the people, and for the people” democracies.

Much has been said recently about the current presidential administration being characterized as chaos. A key former member of the administration, recently released, has just published a book entitled: Code Word: Chaos. But what, specifically does that mean, and why is it so?

Chaos is a state of extreme uncertainty, a state in which we are not able to quantify and qualify what our senses perceive. The most brightly lit arena of chaos is therefore one of profound cognitive darkness. Extreme uncertainty in this cognitive darkness evokes a primary emotion: fear, fear of the dark. Fear evokes secondary reactions: anger, or withdrawal – the so-called “fight or flight” response.

Many will take flight into avoidance and fantasy, watching television entertainment, sports, or other distractions while avoiding all national news and any local or media discussions. So, what part of “we, the people” are these bystanders? Others will lash out in anger, calling for law (imposed rules) and order (cancellation of choice), changing the equation to “of the few people, by the few people, and for the few people”.

An extraordinary example of chaos as a tactic was provided by the 1968 Nixon presidential campaign. Campaign speeches by Nixon and his vice-presidential candidate Agnew were given in small auditoriums and meeting halls. Attendees were ushered in and seated before a stage set with a podium. Exits behind the stage were obscured, leaving only the exits behind the seated attendees through which the attendees had passed as possible exit points. Then, part way through the speech crowds of rowdy, shouting (hired) “protesters” in “Hippie clothes” came in behind the attendees and began chanting and blocking the exits. The sudden and loud disruption coming from behind startled the attendees who, upon turning around, felt themselves trapped. The chaos and the felt inability to escape it produced fear, which the speaker then guided into anger directed at those “radical left wing hippies”. Order was restored, fear was first directed into anger, and then the attendees were subtly influenced to credit the speaker (Nixon or Agnew) with saving them and restoring order.

This played out several times across the country. It was a masterful and highly successful tactic. Whatever the attendees heard from the speaker was amplified tenfold by what the attendees felt for the speaker. As an operations officer I could not have designed a better tactic.

The Trump rallies follow a different scheme, Trump being a former television “reality” character. The cameras placed to capture him frontally are set to include constant views of attendees sitting behind him; they never see anything but his overly ample haunches wagging back and forth before them unless they look for an in-house jumbotron. But that’s the point: the on-camera attendees, howling in orgasmic frenzy at his every word, are as much the messenger as he is. They are the chorus in a Greek tragedy, visually amplifying the angst expounded in the hyperbolic rhetoric. They do their jobs well.

The theme of Chaos rings through and the chorus wails for the Strong Man to save us. Aeschylus must be turning in his grave. This is the road to dictatorship. And this is why Chaos, whether real or believed, is such a necessary tool to the building of that dictatorship.

Over the past three years we have often been warned the system of checks and balances has become increasingly disabled. But now, as the opposing Party is awakening and groping in the dark for the levers of power we can no longer excuse the current administration as innocently ignorant of those Constitutional checks and balances. Except for Trump, the Puppet-in-Place, and his spawn, the Presidential henchmen know exactly what those checks and balances are and how they work. And it is for that reason that they do not deny them but rather seek to discredit them. This tactic, too, has a good likelihood of success. In a twist on Aesop’s Sour Grapes people who do not understand institutions, and therefore feel those institutions are not working for them, seize on any disparagement of those institutions as valid and true. And when pressed to suggest replacements they rush first to the support of the Strong Man. He knows better than the generals. He knows better than the Congress. He alone can fix it.

While it does seem there are glimmers of light in the darkness, increasing examples of knowledgeable people speaking out, I am puzzled as to why the “Republican” cabal does not oust its puppet. Apparently the Russians did sway a very large number of voters to install Trump but it seems the established Republican politicians fear that not enough of those voters have awakened. Yet, as has long been the habit of the Republican party, they have a vice president in the wings who is far more capable of assuming the dictator mantle. Simply impeaching Trump, even bringing him up on the criminal charges he so rightly deserves, will not derail the long and massive train carrying us to dictatorship. The Party is driving the locomotive; the voter “base” is distributed throughout the train, waiting to throw off any fellow passengers who sing out of tune. There have been repeated warnings of “civil war”, most notably the recent “dog whistle” from Trump himself. Having worked in counter-terrorism as long as I have, I do not for a moment doubt bloodshed is imminently possible, perhaps likely.

Supporting this dismal view are the almost daily comments from officials and political scientists that “we’ve never seen anything like this before in American politics.” In other words, Chaos. These comments from officials and political scientists refer to the behavior and pronouncements of the administration. These behaviors and pronouncements are not aimed at Americans in general, they are aimed at “the base”, the poorly educated and resentful mob that sent the Tea Party to Congress and now wonders why governmental processes went off the rails.

While darkness frees the imagination to “create” it can also mask the very real threats. Being a nightfighter is not a skill acquired easily from reading or listening to media broadcasts. It develops in the very young, and is not always the happiest way to live a life. But this is a time when we must overcome our fear of the dark.

I stood on that corner in Winslow, Arizona………..lookin’ for that flatbed Ford……………

Maybe I should have waited for daybreak.

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Structural Terrorism

Structural Terrorism

by Marco M. Pardi

The most horrible warfare is the kindest. I shall spread terror by the surprise employment of all my measures. The important thing is the sudden shock of an overwhelming fear of death. Why should I use different measures against my internal political opponents? These so-called atrocities spare me a hundred thousand individual actions against disobedience and discontent. People will think twice before opposing us when they hear what to expect in the camps.” Adolf Hitler. Table Talk. 1933.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

I have written earlier about structural violence, but to be precise I will distinguish it from structural terrorism. The two do share some features, but structural violence is exemplified in the history of the military draft refusal, in the refusal to pay taxes for some activity which violates a strongly held belief, and in other such criminally culpable issues. A young man who refused to be drafted into the Viet-Nam war, presumably to go and kill someone he knew nothing about, faced forcible arrest, imprisonment, and the ruination of his future career life. Yet there was no one in particular whom he could identify as his persecutor. In fact, many people and officials along the way may have told him they agreed with his stand but they had to follow the law. The same applies to a person who calculated the share of his taxes going to the war effort and withheld them: arrest and imprisonment often to choruses of “support” from the very people locking his cell.

Structural terrorism is more nuanced, though it can be singularly deadly. Again, let’s be clear: terrorism is not just some blunt act such as 9/11. Terrorism is a specific act which, even without explanatory manifestos, is clearly intended to bring about a specific result, usually a change in behavior, a cancellation of plans, or a subduing of protest. In this case, let’s examine the following example:

In the early 1980’s I was living in another State. There were several small private and public colleges in easy driving distance and I knew many faculty members at all but one of them. Immediately after Ronald Reagan won his first presidential election one of the public colleges suddenly decided it had to raise faculty salaries. But there was a catch. A general faculty meeting was called and the president of the college, a hard core Republican, announced plans to raise salaries across the board by 22%. But to do that would require trimming faculty who were not drawing enough students to justify their classes. After this initial cut would come a round of budgetary analysis and, likely, a second cut would be needed.

Of course, everyone went back to their duties wondering if they were on the chopping block. The full time faculty contract called for teaching 5 sections of 3 subjects; each section could take as many as 35 students, but the minimum was unclear.

A very short time later each of five faculty were summoned to the vice president’s office and, in the company of the dean of instruction and their department chairman, told they were being cut at the end of the term. Of the five, each was either very active in the Democratic Party or had expressed support for that Party. Additionally, at least one of the five was teaching 7 sections in 4 different subjects while standing in for another faculty member in a different subject area who had taken ill. This faculty member had full wait-lists for each of his classes.

Of course, the news spread rapidly around campus. I was told that these five, all of whom were tenured and had been with the college over 10 years, could not even get their morning greetings returned by long time “friends” at the college. Why not? That threatened second round of cuts. No one dared appear friendly with them.

Although I did not tell these five faculty, I had a close relationship with an insider to the Board of Trustees. This person told me the phones of at least one of the faculty were tapped and the house was being observed. I couldn’t verify the phones, but I did spot the observer cars. The insider also told me of a letter a woman in the community had written at the direction of the administration detailing an almost impossible litany of sexual perversions and satanic activities at the home of one of the five. (This woman later confessed to fabricating the entire testimony under pressure from someone close to the college administration). And, the insider told me that, while letters of commendation were given to each of the five, the administration contacted all the colleges in the area and spread career destroying falsehoods about them.

So what happened? The threatened second cut hung over the campus, stifling any support for the five. (Of course, the 22% bribe helped accomplish that). But the second round of cuts never materialized; the threat had done its job. I know the fate of only one of the five: shortly after discovering he had been secretly black-balled wherever he applied for work he shot himself to death. The rest, I assume, went on with their lives somewhere, somehow.

So how is this structural terrorism? Certainly you picked up on the “second round of cuts”. This absolutely killed even the appearance of any long standing friendships to say nothing of allies who might protest the chosen cuts on someone’s behalf. So, until the first round of cuts was made everyone lived in fear for their livelihood. As the names of the victims emerged no one dared express any sympathy or even puzzlement lest they be named in the expected second round. Yet everyone saw how the named individuals were utterly isolated and without any support.

My point here is to elucidate and clarify the nature of structural terrorism. Each individual decision maker in the process described above denied any personal agenda in the selection of cuts; like those who prosecuted draft resisters, they claimed to feel deep sympathy while bowing to the demands of the “fiscal numbers”. They attempted to preemptively deflect the question of Who is doing this and why.

While the example elaborated above may seem interesting but distant, I propose it is anything but distant. Further, it is not germane solely to the Unites States. This column is read in many countries and, if space permitted, we could devote equal verbiage to similar workplace conditions in any or all of those countries. These conditions arise from the increasing polarization most obviously displayed in political sympathies and the price some people pay for disclosure whether intended or inadvertent. But we must not lose sight of the basic truism that “politics” is simply the rubric we give to the distribution and the use of inter-personal power within societies. Any societies.

But once the targets of abuse of power have been named and isolated, how easy it is to breathe again and say, Not my problem. How easy it is to erase people in our midst, even those we’ve called “friends” for years. “Oh, they’ll survive.” “One day they’ll look back at this and say it was the best thing that ever happened to them.” If any of the fellow faculty in the example cited above actually believed those facile sayings why was there not a collective stampede for the door? Everyone knew the cuts were political surgery and in one case very personally motivated. Aaah, the 22% pay raise. Do your “friends” have a price? Do you?

The United States today has the most corrupt presidential administration in its history. Many in the president’s own party privately acknowledge this and despise the president and all who surround him. In the past few years there have been several members of that party who have resigned or refused to run for re-election. But what of the rest? What’s their price?

As we are seeing, massive tax cuts which primarily benefit the big money donors to these remaining members, environmental cuts and the muzzling of science each of which benefits the big money fossil fuel donors, and social benefits cuts which ensure the disadvantaged remain powerless are the “22%” of the day. As I personally heard a very senior legal aide say on Trump’s election: “Now we can do whatever we want!!”

We have “Whistle blower” laws which protect those who report wrong doing. Yet today our president called for the exposure of those who provided information to the current whistle blower and suggested these people be treated as we treated spies in the past.

What concerns me more is the overt appeal from this president to the rabble that supports his cabal. Where I live having any kind of decal on your car which criticizes this president or supports an opponent is an invitation to someone to pull up next to you and put a bullet in your head. Far more likely is retaliation in some form at places of employment; finding yourself passed over for promotion, or suddenly without a job.

Do you know who your friends are?

Again, these issues are not limited to the United States. Those among my international readers who find themselves in fear of self expression share in the structural terrorism which is gaining strength daily in this country. We have an empathetic connection. How we dare share it remains to be seen.

Role Models

Role Models

by Marco M. Pardi

There is much difference between imitating a good man and counterfeiting him.” Benjamin Franklin. Poor Richard’s Almanac. 1738

We copy when we lack the inclination, the ability, or the time to work out an independent solution.” Eric Hoffer. The True Believer. 1951

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Social science and developmental psychology text books emphasis the importance of role models in bringing a child to maturity. The emphasis seems to be on characteristics of the person more than on the requirements of the role that person is in. Thus, we are left in the dark about why that person is in that role, what they feel about it, and what they might otherwise have chosen to do. The overall impression is that the role is of a given, unquestionable validity and importance while the person is admirable only to the extent they are able to fit themselves to the role and accept it. We are encouraged to emulate subservience. Fitting in, they call it. “Getting with the program.”

I was quite fortunate. I had no role models while growing up. This was partly aided by having a brother three and a half years older who was diametrically opposite from me, or I from him. Family, family friends, and teachers voiced to me a never ending litany of “Why can’t you be like (him)? When will you settle down and be like (him)?” No one seemed to get it: I was my own person. I had internalized no one else’s measures and standards of success. A helpful fact of genetics was that no one looking at us would take us for brothers.

So, I completely missed that supposedly normal developmental phase of fixating on an older male and deciding I wanted to be “just like him”. An English cleric, Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832) coined the saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. That may be, but carried too far it is the surest way to arrested development. Unchecked, it can even damage the ability to form relationships once someone is moving into what we would normally consider maturity.

For example, while in college in the 1960’s I knew a young man about to graduate. He intended to become a high school history teacher and was quite serious about his mastery of his given subject. Often he spoke of his concern for the high school kids growing up in the era of the worsening Viet-Nam war. He was also quite serious and thoughtful about his relationship to the young woman he intended to marry after graduation and acceptance into a teaching position. She was a very nice, well grounded young woman also graduating with a teaching career in mind.

Then something no one foresaw developed. Bond, James Bond. Sean Connery exploded onto the big screen in a series of “secret agent” films, glamorizing a completely fictitious and silly role, casual sex with an abundance of attractive women, a bar tab exceeding a high school teacher’s yearly income, and a license to kill. Then we suddenly realized our young man was an exact, and I mean exact image of Sean Connery – except that Connery was over one foot taller.

Suddenly what had been his studious afternoons with his fiancee, both of them reading educational materials and writing papers, became marathons of listening to musical soundtracks of Bond films while drinking himself into a solitary stupor on his apartment floor. He and I each lived in off campus housing. On his occasional visits to my rented house he knew I had some handguns, supposedly for sport. He asked me to help him pick one for himself and help him get it. I refused.

I don’t know what became of him. Many would say this was simply “a phase” in his development and would pass. His potential marriage was on very shaky ground. But I wonder how much of his fantasy he carried into the classroom, if he got there. I’m sure every reader can think of someone with a similar profile.

Finding yourself can be surprising; expressing yourself even more so. And herein lies a potentially disabling problem, especially for those in the workforce. That often heard request, said in “jest”, “Tell us what you really think” can be an invitation to career suicide. Some years ago the Christian fundamentalist crowd tried to popularize WWJD, What Would Jesus Do? Leaving aside the utter simple-mindedness of such a question we can still understand its logic: Jesus is, presumably, the role model. You should divine what this imaginary role model would do in a given situation and emulate it as best you can. Of course, the presumption is that others involved in the situation share exactly the same fantasy of Jesus and will therefore admire your adherence to the approved behavior/expressed thought, etc. That is, you won’t get crucified. Or, perhaps Neville Chamberlain is your role model, and you acquiesce to achieve “Peace in our time”.

But is either of these models the real you, and is it possible anyone can be the real you? Ah, but then we parce the traits of our chosen model – and therefore select the likely reactions he or she would likely have to a situation. Years ago I briefly knew two Oscar winning actors (since deceased), an Englishman and a Welshman. I very much enjoyed the personas they cast in their films. But off-screen, with “their hair down”, their skills at character portrayal really became obvious. They were different from the roles for which they were most famous. Perhaps this is why we sometimes have difficulties understanding the “out of character” troubles these people often seem to have. Have any of your actions been described as “out of character”? Perhaps the person who said that really didn’t know you after all.

How about us then? Are we in a malleable “character” from one role – situation – to another? Of course we are. We perceive a situation, form an assessment, and select the persona we think most appropriate to it. I don’t act as a father the same way I did as a son. I’ve written previously of this.

What gets us into trouble, or at least causes trouble for us, is when people take the persona we employed in one situation and expect it to manifest in a completely different situation. And, to be fair, we sometimes do this ourselves. A professor who treats his family as if they were students in his classroom finds, sooner or later, he is not in fact communicating with his family. My advice to anyone who is tempted to see someone as a role model is: Get to know them as a person, in various situations. Then decide if they are worthy of your attention. Of course, that’s a bit deep for a child to understand. But given the way people vote for politicians, it’s a lesson that must be learned. Who would you favor as a role model for your children, Obama or Trump?

About 3,400 years ago Thucydides raised an interesting question: Do the events of history make a great leader, or do great leaders make the events of history? We could add, can a great leader be replicated? Many of us have found that, sooner or later, imitation goes against the grain, either our own or someone else’s. It “rings hollow”.

Often this is learned the hard way. Many of us remember the 1988 Vice-presidential debate in which Dan Quayle, a Republican senator, compared himself to John Kennedy. Lloyd Bentsen, a Democratic senator, replied, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. You’re, no Jack Kennedy.”

That should be a simple but effective reminder, if not warning, that role models serve limited purposes but if emulation is unchecked it can lead to disaster. Not just social embarrassment, but loss of the true self and what it is truly capable of.

In his book, Twilight of American Sanity, Allen Frances MD, professor emeritus and former Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Duke University, cites statements made by Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations. Speaking of lessons learned from his wife, a psychoanalyst, Guterres says, “When two people are together they are not two but six. What each one is, what each one thinks he or she is, and what each one thinks the other is…………….One of the roles of the secretary-general when dealing with the different key actors in each scenario is to bring the six into two.”

We can greatly simplify this process, in fact prevent the need for it right from the start. Forget the role models. Ask, WWID: What Would I Do? I. Know it, Be it, Live it.

The Right Time

The Right Time

by Marco M. Pardi

I think very soon the right to die will become the duty to die.”  Cecily Saunders, MD. Appearing on 60 Minutes 24 July 1983

All comments are especially welcome and will receive a reply.

I first met Dr Saunders, “Cecily”, in Montreal in 1976. She was a co-presenter in a workshop on Palliative Care under the auspices of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital.

Of course, the issues we all worked through for several days and nights were exclusively about humans. In those years the ethical twists and knots we attempted to untangle were ultimately fixed in place by laws: Frank euthanasia was then against the law in all western countries. But those discussions laid the foundations for further and deeper discussions of the nature of personal autonomy and the right to say, Enough is enough”. Of course, the phrase, Doctor’s orders, always sounded officious and binding but no doctor had the legal right to enforce an order that an ailing but competent adult submit to his treatment orders. The patient was free to withdraw, albeit with Against Medical Advise stamped on his chart. And, during these recent decades there was tacit acknowledgment that doctor’s orders could ultimately hasten death while making it more comfortable. Thus, hospice arose as a way to provide a comforting setting even with the withdrawal of any curative efforts. From there it was a short step to a huge legal hurdle: the ability of the patient to ask the doctor for assistance in bringing about the certain but still lingering death.

As we now know, several States have taken that step and allowed physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medications, along with instructions. But the patients must take the dose themselves, with no assistance from anyone else. In an earlier piece I wrote extensively of the Brittany Maynard case. You remember her as the young woman who, already in seizures from inoperable brain cancer, chose to take her lethal dose of medication before the seizures prevented her from being able to do so. Had she not done so, no one would have been legally able to administer the dose to her once she was beyond being able to do it. Yet, externally, she appeared quite healthy and vibrant as she took the dose.

I’m going to bring this closer to home. In fact, into my own home. Over thirteen years ago I could no longer tolerate living without a dog in my home. Some months before I had to take my fifteen year old Chow for her last ride to the veterinarian. Months of negotiations and even family interventions passed after that sad day. Finally, the barrier against another dog seemed to be coming down.

So a friend took me to a local shelter and I walked along the enclosures hoping to feel that certain connection, the mutual recognition that this was who I was looking for. I came to an under weight, nameless, year old male who acted as if he had been passed over too many times before. Even when we took him into the “get acquainted” yard he seemed to feel it was another useless exercise. I decided right then I was not going home without him. His seemingly philosophical acceptance of this inspired his name: (named for a philosopher).

He turned out to be quite independent but very friendly to all humans. Either he was housebroken or just very conscientious; he never has done anything in the house. He’s picky about his food but a bit sloppy when he does eat – food flies around but he cleans it up. His weight came up nicely, along with muscle tone built with several longs trips to dog parks. Those trips had to stop, however, when his confidence peaked and he started tearing into dogs that tried to mount him (he had been neutered at the shelter). He has been on several cross-country trips and travels well, favoring the La Quinta motels along the way. And he immediately recognizes other family dogs and gets along very well with them. He is also quite tolerant of little children. What kind of dog is he? Even my vet friends didn’t know, but I did. From some past activities of mine I recognized him as a Korean Jindo and, in the vets office, had them enter that in Google. His picture popped up. The description, including behavior, fit him perfectly.

So, overall he is very different from the Chow we raised from a foundling fist sized puppy to a 15 year old pumpkin colored terror. She was fiercely protective of her family, to the point where visitors had to accept certain house rules if they wanted to see her at all. I don’t recall any dog parks in those years but judging by the wide berths other dog walkers gave us that might not have gone well anyway. At around thirteen she developed some issues which the vet diagnosed as indicative of Cushing’s disease, an adrenal/kidney disorder. We put her on a maintenance program of appropriate medication but over the next two years her weight dropped to less than half and she weakened terribly. I felt the medication was harming her, and perhaps she also felt that or at least that it was prolonging her suffering. She once seriously bit me when I tried to give it to her. But I also knew there was no alternative at that time. My wife was away on a trip when I just came to the conclusion that I had been keeping her alive, lying on a mat in the living room, for too long. I felt I had been doing it for me, not for her. It had become clear that when I woke her for medicine or food she did not recognize me and may not have known even where she was. A friend helped me take her to the vet; her last trip.

Some people choose to leave their companion at the vet and pay for disposal. Some manage to wait in the waiting room. I carried my girl into the examining room and put her on the table for her shots – one to relax her and one to kill her.

Let’s call it what it is. I did not have her “put to sleep”; I had her killed. Even the term “euthanasia” is barely acceptable. Eu from the Greek root for good, as in euphoria; thanasia from the Greek thanatos – death. We use it because it makes us feel better, like that other term, making love, dreamed up by a panel of idiots to disguise having sexual intercourse.

I’m not a believer; even the term disgusts me. I know or I don’t know. What I know is that non-humans have a non-corporeal existence – call it a spirit if you want – just as humans do. In my world that’s not religious nonsense and it doesn’t require make-believe gods; it’s simple fact. So I can say she was glad to be released from the agony of her body. And, later experiences I had with her and with other, preceding companion animals satisfied my standards of evidence.

But before we get too comfortable let’s look at another piece of common wisdom: “They will tell you when it’s time.” If you have read any materials on caring for pets you have certainly come across this. I’m sure I’ve repeated it at some sorrowful point in the past. It’s an odd stimulant. It can make one feel better about making the decision. Or, it can make one feel terrible about missing or even refusing the message. Since my first encounters with non-human animals as a small child I have always had an attunement to their feelings. That’s probably the most frequently said comment about me (or so I hope), a trait others considered odd about me but I considered normal. Yet in all the years I have had dogs, cats and horses as close companions I do not recall a single time when one of them told me it was time. Yes, there will be those people who will say I actually did get the message on a subconscious level and acted on what I only thought was my own volition. I have no answer to that. I can only say I know I will certainly be facing this again. It’s only a matter of time.

My Jindo companion of nearly fourteen years recently developed a thumb sized growth on his shoulder. It was almost black in color and had a narrow stem. So, the vet and I agreed it did not look cancerous. But when we decided on removal and we talked about a biopsy the vet said, “At his age I don’t know what we would do even if it is cancer.” We removed it in early May.

I have always been very attentive to my companions, feeling under the fur, checking pads and teeth, inspecting hooves no matter their age. My Jindo has some of the fat globules that develop in older dogs. They are easy to identify. But almost as soon as the fur was growing back and recent excision was gone from sight I felt a lump unlike a fat globule developing in the same spot. From July to now (early September) it has grown beyond the fur larger than a golf ball, hard, and with visible blood vessels. In sum, it looks exactly like carcinoma I’ve seen in humans.

I consulted my daughter, one of the most highly competent medical professionals I know and greatly experienced with dogs, cats and horses. I consulted a next door neighbor, a research veterinarian experienced with dogs and cancer. We all agreed my Jindo’s age precluded “full bore” surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Given that I could take only the comfort care approach, even a needle biopsy might stimulate metastasis unnecessarily.

So, today we went in for a thorough clinical examination. The tumor is malignant though it shows no sign as yet of metastasis. He is too old to withstand aggressive surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. The current risk is that the tumor ruptures, in which case we rush him in to get it closed. However, an internal rupture would suddenly begin uncontrolled metastasis. So this is now a case of comfort care. And I do have a 24/7 emergency number should I need it.

In a way we are back to where I started this column; choices and hospice care. In this case I do have a choice, but obviously the time is not right. All my Jindo told me at the vet’s office was that he wanted to go home. So we did. And here we are.

This column is read in dozens of countries from Sweden to New Zealand, China to South Africa. And, even here in the United States. I have made sure the site has plenty of space for anyone’s comments. If you have read this far and feel like sharing some feelings and thoughts, or even if you just want to state a global tribute to your companion, please consider yourself most welcome to do so. Comments from new contributors are sometimes held in moderation, but I will get them and post them.

Censorship

Censorship

by Marco M. Pardi

No totalitarian censor can approach the implacability of the censor who controls the line of communication between the outer world and our consciousness, Nothing is allowed to reach us which might weaken our confidence and lower our morale.” Eric Hoffer. The Passionate State of Mind and Other Aphorisms.

Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

George Orwell. 1984.

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell. 1984

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

As I write this the American President, Trump, recently published a tweet to his followers that Israel would be showing great weakness if it allowed two democratically elected U.S. representatives (Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, both Democrats) to enter Israel. Within minutes the Israeli government, better known as Benjamin Netanyahu, withdrew the permission it had granted for the trip which was supposed to start in a matter of hours.

Of course, since the questionable election of Trump it has been an open secret that the U.S. is quickly moving into a Fascist government, enhanced with its own version of racial purity, favored religion, and economic parasitism. An open secret is one which, despite being openly obvious to anyone caring to look, remains secret because few people do care to look and, among those that do, few recognize what they are looking at.

But beyond the obvious tactics of the regime, and the tens of thousands of lies told by its front-man Trump, Israel’s actions are troublingly similar to a growing number of university dis-invitations and outright bans on particular speakers. I found this particularly galling. Universities are supposed to expose students to new and different ways of thinking, not just reinforce what they enrolled with. Listening is learning. It not only tells you what the other person seems to be thinking, it gives you insights into how you feel about that thinking. Refusal to listen to someone only hardens that person’s thinking. They get no informed feedback and so they can only conclude they are right. But when given a seemingly receptive audience, people can be amazingly candid…. and foolish. Just ask any attorney. One of the primary goals of a defense attorney, whether his client is on the stand or in a deposition, is limiting what the client says in answer to questioning.

In the early 1970’s I, as an Anthropologist, was an Expert Witness for the Defense in a highly publicized pornography trial being held in conservative (read: backward) Central Florida county. My task was to review the “pornography”, mainly a magazine with totally graphic photographs and explanatory text, and render an opinion on whether it violated community standards. I was surprised, and privately offended that the Prosecutors did not challenge how I could possibly know what the standards of sexual behavior were in the community. Did they assume I had gone door to door asking? Or maybe looking in windows at night? No, they just accepted an Anthropologist as one who could render Expert testimony on a community I had lived in only a couple of years. I took that as a sign they weren’t very bright. But then, advocates of censorship rarely are.

In the meantime, the Dean of Instruction at the first college where I taught full time told me, “If I didn’t get calls from angry parents about you I would think you are not doing your job.” I took that to heart, and cranked it up. But what I’ve been reading lately suggests a growing number of colleges where I would have had a hard time surviving on faculty.

The censorship issue cuts both ways. We claim free speech yet penalize yelling FIRE in a crowded theater. We claim academic freedom yet carefully scrutinize the guest speakers to whom students are exposed. While academic freedom may not be an issue for you, the broader attempts to censor what you experience should be. But let’s be clear that we likely agree on some proposed targets of censorship, starting with items available on the internet. How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom has long been available, and delivers on its promise, as do related sites and videos. Do we want these in circulation? Personally, I would permanently silence producers of child pornography, “crush” videos showing small animals crushed to death, and similar offerings. (Oddly, I’ve seen no Republican efforts to censor these. Perhaps they “contribute” big money.) I’m sure each reader can add to the list of what should be censored. Now lets look at the other side.

The Republican regime, in control of the Federal Communications Commission, has enacted a policy by which equal access to the internet no longer exists. That is, some web sites come up far more quickly than others and are placed at the top of search lists generated by common search engines. What qualifies these sites for priority placement? Several factors, beginning with money. Another is “loyalty” to the regime. The loyalty test, under plans currently in motion, would be applied even down to postings on social media. The five paragraphs below are from a non-partisan media watchdog group:

Donald Trump’s leaked plan to censor the internet has sparked an uproar in the media. Free speech experts across the political spectrum have spoken out, and pressure is increasing on the White House to back off. But so far, Trump has shown no sign of backing off this executive order.

Right now, a law called Section 230 protects free speech on the Internet, allowing tech companies like Facebook and Google determine their terms of service and keeping government out of it.

A draft copy of an executive order leaked to the media shows that Trump plans to turn Section 230 on its head, appointing non-elected government agencies to decide what we should be allowed to post and what shouldn’t.

This is just an attempt by Trump to rally his base, feeding into the far-right myth that tech platforms are biased against conservatives–even though there is no proof of that.

The leaked executive order is so vague that it could destroy free speech on the Internet. The government has no place in deciding what constitutes “bias” or “inappropriate speech” on the Internet.

Still think censorship is not your problem? Trump and his ultra-fundamentalist Vice President, Mike Pence imposed a “gag rule” on all federal agencies forbidding any reference or referral for contraception and/or abortion. This carries forward, on a domestic level, the policies of the Republican administrations under Reagan and Bush. During those periods any federal employee found guilty of mentioning either of those options to a patient could be summarily fired. The devastation was acute in countries where HIV was spreading wildly without the use of condoms. If a foreign clinic was found to have even a desk devoted to family planning all U.S. aid money was withdrawn from the entire clinic. Now the policy is being applied within the United States. The following is a statement from Planned Parenthood:

Donald Trump and Mike Pence just took a baseball bat to health care for millions of women. Planned Parenthood was forced to withdraw from the Title X family planning program, a nearly 50-year-old program that provides birth control, STD testing, cancer screenings, and other health care to millions of young, uninsured, and under-insured people across the country.

Planned Parenthood was forced to drop out and forgo millions of dollars each year in federal funds, because earlier this year the Trump administration put in place a new rule—the Trump Gag Rule—that makes it illegal for doctors and other health providers participating in the Title X program to talk with their patients about how and where they can access abortion safely and legally.

Planned Parenthood is fighting the Trump Gag Rule in court and in Congress. Title X helps prevent more than 822,000 unintended pregnancies each year. It’s the nation’s only program dedicated to helping people get affordable birth control and other reproductive health care. The program serves more than 4 million people each year—and fully 40% get services through Planned Parenthood.4

But what now? Planned Parenthood cannot be replaced in the program. In some rural communities, Planned Parenthood is the only reproductive health care provider. And in whole states, like Utah, Planned Parenthood is the only organization that was receiving Title X funds.

Women are already having to drive impossible distances to access abortion. Now, women may be forced to drive hundreds of miles just to get birth control.

It’s truly outrageous—and dangerous. It’s 2019, not 1919.

We have to overturn the Trump Gag Rule either in the courts or in Congress and stop these GOP attacks on our bodies and our ability to control our own lives.

Concerned about Climate Change? In keeping with Trump’s pledge to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency his regime has outlawed the use of the words climate change in any scientific document or study coming from any U.S. federal agency or scientific body funded by the U.S. regime. A massive exodus of career scientists from such institutions is still underway.

And, just recently, the regime successfully put into law the criminalization of protests against oil, gas, and coal drilling or mining and the transportation, such as pipelines, of such products. The Department of Education, under the control of Betsy DeVos, a woman who knows absolutely nothing about education but is the wife of the man who invented the AMWAY scheme and the sister of Eric Prince, the man who assembled the mercenary army formerly known as BlackWater, is pressing for the revision of American schoolbooks to minimize the Theory of Evolution, write Thomas Jefferson out of the books, and teach loyalty to a narrow version of Christianity over an understanding of science.

During this time Trump directed his staff to look into ways to suspend or revoke the broadcasting licenses of CNN and NBC. As we know, he revoked a CNN reporter’s credentials to attend White House daily press briefings. A threatened court case reversed that decision so he has suspended White House daily press briefings altogether.

The reader might think the paragraphs above have been lifted from some dystopian novel (if so inclined, hurry to the bookstore for copies before these, too, are censored and banned). No, every line item above, and much more, is in the public domain. But with the regime’s constant drumbeat of “fake news” and charges of bias leveled against any and all media outlets not on their knees in praise to Dear Leader Trump (today I saw him tell gathered reporters that he was “the chosen one”) I will not be surprised by seeing these news stories fade.

So, Dear Reader, what do you think? Or have you become too intimidated to post comments?

Deflection

Deflection

by Marco M. Pardi

Being considered or labeled mentally disordered—abnormal, crazy, mad, psychotic, sick, it matters not what variant is used—is the most profoundly discrediting classification that can be imposed on a person today. Mental illness casts the “patient” out of our social order just as surely as heresy cast the “witch” out of medieval society. That, indeed, is the very purpose of stigma terms.” Thomas S. Szasz, MD The Manufacture of Madness. 1970

The main symptom of a psychiatric case is that the person is perfectly unaware that he is a psychiatric case.” Oleg P. Shchepin, Soviet Deputy Minister of Health. 1988

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

According to national statistics, by August 5th 2019 there were 255 mass shootings in the United States. That was the 217th day of the year.

So, as of that date we had more mass shootings than days in the year. But I am not writing about guns. Regular readers of this column know I have recently written about Gun Control, under that title. In that piece I proposed concrete steps to greatly reduce gun violence. Anyone interested can simply check the archives on this site for the title Gun Control.

Instead, this is about an insidious effort to Trojan Horse a very highly dangerous policy/practice into our lives through the feelings we are rightly experiencing subsequent to the latest mass shootings.

Finally breaking his silence following the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings, President Trump reiterated his support for expanded background checks. Then a few days later, after conversing with the National Rifle Association and taking time to glorify himself with forced “photo ops” with a couple of survivors (one an infant), he backtracked to “meaningful background checks” and lectured us on how guns are not the problem, mentally ill people are the problem. It was clear that his “meaningful” background checks were to be aimed mainly, if not solely toward people someone (unspecified) had labeled as mentally a danger to self or others.

This message is being picked up and spread, sometimes in seductive ways. On August 11th Mia Love, former Republican Congresswoman, appeared on CNN and told us her daughter had written: “I wish Congress would focus on the violent thought so I don’t have to become the victim of the violent act.” On its face this seems sensible. But look further and we see it deflects attention away from the gun just as surely as does Trump’s NRA inspired modification of background checks.

Reshaping reality to suit political ends is nothing new. We now live in a world Orwell would recognize, told to believe “alternative facts” (Kellyanne Conway). But we must not lose sight of the fact that politics set the framework for how people behave economically, socially, and even religiously. We were given an excellent primer in that by George Orwell. Pressed by his publisher to complete and submit his as yet untitled manuscript he looked ahead to the lead time necessary for his book to reach the public and saw 1948. He then merely transposed the last numbers and gave the world 1984.

Orwell’s secret police – Thinkpol – were chartered with discovering and punishing thoughts unapproved by the Party – thoughtcrime. In addition to intrusive surveillance, every citizen was responsible, under penalty, to report anyone they thought guilty of thoughtcrime.

Of course, as our modern background check stands, only those who have been formally adjudicated mentally ill and involuntarily confined as a danger to self or others, or who have been convicted of felony crimes would show up on the database used to evaluate and approve or deny a potential gun purchase. What goes unsaid is that it is estimated that as much as 40% of gun purchases in the U.S. are outside of the background check system. That is, they are person to person or through going to a “gun show” and simply agreeing to meet the seller in the parking lot outside.

“We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and make sure those people not only get treatment but—when necessary—involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hate pulls the trigger, not the gun.” Donald J. Trump

But when we examine the facts, not the alternative facts, we find a large body of scientific work exposing the Republican’s position for what it is: Deflection.

In a 2015 review published in the American Journal of Public Health, Vanderbilt University professors Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish note research indicating that less than five percent of gun violence deaths between 2001 and 2010 were caused by people diagnosed with a mental illness. Columbia University psychiatrist Michael Stone found, according to his research, 65 percent of recent spree killers exhibited no signs of psychosis or similar condition prior to their crimes; instead, Dr. Stone said, “mass shooters are likelier to act in response to perceived slights and insults, quietly accumulated over time, until such grievances manifest themselves in violence.”

Medicaid is the single largest provider of mental health support. Yet, the very same Republicans who wish to focus gun violence response on mental health intend to slash the Medicaid budget by 200 billion dollars to cover their own tax breaks.

According to Paul S. Applebaum, MD and Jeffrey W. Swanson Ph.D., writing in Psychiatry Online,

There are, of course, commonsense reasons to expect that limiting access to firearms will reduce the use of guns by persons with mental illnesses and others. Miller and colleagues, for example, observed that homicide was more common in areas where household firearms ownership was higher. But the net increment to public safety from restricting gun access by persons with mental illnesses is likely to be small. The best available national data suggest that only 3%–5% of violent acts are attributable to serious mental illness, and most of those acts do not involve guns. Most studies concur that the added risk of violence, if any, conferred by the presence of a serious mental disorder is small. Moreover, there are no data to indicate whether the categories of persons with mental illnesses targeted by federal and state laws—that is, persons subject to involuntary commitment or found incompetent to manage their affairs—are actually at higher risk than other groups with mental illness. One of the strongest predictors of violence among persons with mental illness is a history of violent crime. But having a violent criminal record would already disqualify an individual from purchasing a gun, irrespective of any coincident mental health adjudication. Thus one might question whether the disproportionate emphasis on restricting firearms access by persons with mental disorders reflects sound public policy or is a manifestation of exaggerated public perceptions of the danger associated with mental illnesses.”

August 4, 2019

Statement of APA President in Response to Mass Shootings in Texas, Ohio

Hate + guns = public health crisis

WASHINGTON — Following is the statement of APA President Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, on the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and in Dayton, Ohio:

“Our condolences are with the families and friends of those killed or injured in these horrific shootings and with all Americans affected every day by the twin horrors of hate and gun violence.

As our nation tries to process the unthinkable yet again, it is clearer than ever that we are facing a public health crisis of gun violence fueled by racism, bigotry and hatred. The combination of easy access to assault weapons and hateful rhetoric is toxic. Psychological science has demonstrated that social contagion —the spread of thoughts, emotions and behaviors from person to person and among larger groups —is real, and may well be a factor, at least in the El Paso shooting.

That shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, as it should be. Psychological science has demonstrated the damage that racism can inflict on its targets. Racism has been shown to have negative cognitive and behavioral effects on both children and adults and to increase anxiety, depression, self-defeating thoughts and avoidance behaviors.

Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.

If we want to address the gun violence that is tearing our country apart, we must keep our focus on finding evidence-based solutions. This includes restricting access to guns for people who are at risk for violence and working with psychologists and other experts to find solutions to the intolerance that is infecting our nation and the public dialogue.”

That last sentence is particularly telling. The regime currently in power in Washington came to power on an unrelenting campaign of hate, hatred toward anyone they defined as Other. In her recent blog post from New Zealand Rachel McAlpine (see website below) posed the word “Othering”. I was immediately taken by the word as it so elegantly captures the operant policy of social control characterizing our regime. It could equally have been applied to the 3rd Reich of Nazi Germany and to the cabal that controlled WWII Japan. (Benito Mussolini is on record as having often referred to Hitler and his minions as Barbarians for their treatment of Jews and other minorities).

The regime’s efforts to place the blame for gun violence on mentally ill people is nothing more than deflection. Deflection is the “go to” response mechanism to address any issue, and the targets vary by the issue. It is the hallmark of the anti-socially developed child. In this case it is moving toward the infamous Soviet system in which people who disagreed with the State were involuntarily subjected to “psychiatric care”. The formula is simple: People who disagree are dangerous. Dangerous people must be rendered impotent. The general public, believing the alternative facts from the Ministry of Truth, supports the policy and contributes toward it by informing on the suspect segment of the population whoever it may currently be.

One might wonder if Humanity has an immune system, and whether that now sleeping system might one day awaken and recognize the cabal now calling themselves the Republican Party as the cancerous tumor which it is. Great strides are being in immunotherapy.

Rachel McAlpine’s site

https://writeintolife.com/2019/08/12/othering-word-of-the-day/

Swingers

Swingers

by Marco M. Pardi

Every day should be passed as if it were to be our last.” Publius Syrus (85-43 BCE)

Few men of action have been able to make a graceful exit at the appropriate time.” Malcolm Muggeridge. 1966

All comments are sincerely welcome and will receive a response.

Remember those days of childhood fun playing on a swing, straining to go as high as possible? Or those evenings when you were older and could slip into the park playground and go back in time on the swing, straining less but feeling the A frame pull out of the ground behind you? That drive to go higher – deeper? – into the blue sky or to float among the stars, imagining the ability to do so but knowing of the broken bones that would result from letting go? Somewhere up there we reached apogee, though we knew that word only later. Somewhere up there the chains reached their limits, gravity found us and quietly but forcefully asserted dominance. We tucked up our legs and let the pendulum do what pendulums eventually do, unlike that huge pendulum we saw at the science museum that swings with the motion of the Earth. No, we’re not that glorious.

Sometimes it seemed we were spending our whole lives trying to swing up, only to be brought down again. Day passed into night and again became day. Our minds and bodies gravitated into a work – off time schedule we hardly noticed after a while. It just seemed natural. We were part of the work force. We were productive, although many of us had long given up on ever knowing what exactly we produced. But knowing that became less necessary as we learned to measure the value of our lives by more immediate standards: Bank account; home; transportation; family; friends, – not necessarily in that order. And on we swung. Because….well….we were swingers.

And as we swung we looked at people on other swings. And wondered if we made the right choice. Would we have been happier on another swing, or made more money, or been happier with a different spouse? Some of us considered our options. Could we leap to that other, seemingly more attractive swing? What would we leave behind? Would we be shamed by our families, our former co-workers, our friends?

As long ago as the mid 1960’s college Sociology texts were warning readers that college students soon entering the work force must be prepared to change careers three to five times during their working lives. They did not mean changing location with the same company, or even career field. They meant changing careers – what we do for a living. Of course, certain professions were likely immune from this threat. But this seemed extreme to me. Until I found myself teaching college courses in 1969. One of the first things I noticed was the older ages of several of the students. They weren’t late in starting college; they were returning to college with one or more degrees already in hand. They were preparing to change careers.

Changing careers can be a scary thought, especially if it is forced upon you by circumstances you cannot control. Of course, there are always those who discovered too late into their college years that the field they were getting a degree in was not really what they wanted in life. They were too late in that just starting over was financially not an option. And, the doors were quickly closing on those jobs for which any college diploma would do.

Some of those same 1960’s textbooks mentioned the need for “Leisure Studies”. Again, I was a bit perplexed. I had not had much in the way of leisure, but I felt I didn’t need any help in using it if I ever got it. Nonetheless, Leisure Studies began blooming at universities around the country. I had images of freshly degreed people (what do you call a specialist in Leisure Studies?) fanning out across Florida, a State with more liquor stores per square mile than any other place on Earth, to rouse old people off parks benches – or call the EMTs for those who were stiff. I still haven’t used my leisure time to find out exactly what these graduates do.

Inevitably, as we swing along among the other swings we notice that faces come and go. Friends for Life, even Soul Mates are no longer there. Oh, yes. We promised to keep in touch. How long ago was that? It’ll come to me. Many of them reached their apogee and the swing chains came unfastened; they achieved lift-off, floating out there in the Void somewhere. Others, probably so. Are they around me now, giving my swing an occasional push? Sometimes I wonder.

The same Sociology texts that advised students to be prepared for career change also discussed what can happen when work-life is effectively over, a kind of terminal velocity. Many people come to define themselves through their work. It may be as casual as saying, I’m an engineer. Or, it may be as comprehensive as saying, Engineering is in my blood. Of course, that leaves one wondering what one is when the opportunity to engineer is no longer there. Rachel McAlpine, writing from New Zealand, posed this issue in her recent blog. Essentially, she asked what we lost when we stopped working. I answered by writing, “I found me before I found ‘a job’. So, everything I did thereafter was just me being me. I lost nothing when it came time for me to continue just being me.”

Some would say that suggests not being fully dedicated to the job or career. I would say it is simply the ability to compartmentalize. And I speak from a position of having held three careers concurrently, not to mention all the familial permutations that developed along the way.

So what about those individuals who were totally invested in their careers? Ever heard it said about someone in retirement, They don’t know what to do with themselves? Oh, we can offer distractions but how effective are they, and are they addressing the issue or are they simply “killing time” until the swing comes to a stop. In recent years I have noticed there are many more social activities for older women than for older men. Okay, men don’t live quite as long. Those texts mentioned earlier warned of an association, perhaps causative, between retirement and death. Loss of meaningful identity seems to be a health issue (I think television, such as FOX NEWS is a key vector).

I hope it’s obvious that I enjoy writing this blog. I certainly have other things to do but I make time to do this. I particularly enjoy the comments and the opportunity to interact with people even if it is only “electronic”.

How about you, Dear Reader? Have you planned the plan, or do you take it as it comes?

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